Resilient floors—tiles or sheets of linoleum, cork, vinyl, rubber, or laminate—have a long history in American homes. Promoted as “miracle” surfaces in the early 20th century, this class of durable, nonabsorbent flooring is easy to clean, forgiving of wear and tear, and soft underfoot, able to bounce back from scuffs and abrasions with ease.
For decades, resilient flooring made from polyvinyl chloride (vinyl, for short) dominated the residential market. Vinyl is still with us, but that’s changing as manufacturers introduce a class of materials that are PVC- free. Called bio-flooring, the newer materials are made mostly from natural, sustainable products. Bio-tiles and -floors are intended as a more environmentally friendly alternative to luxury vinyl and plastic composite tile. Cork and linoleum arguably are, of course, the original bio-flooring materials.
Cork is renewable in that it’s harvested from the bark of living trees, every nine years or so. Most of today’s cork flooring is made from waste cork from wine stoppers, so it’s a recycled material, too. It’s available as tile or sheet flooring in a variety of textures, dozens of colors, and a multitude of sizes and shapes for creative pattern design; there are even ready-to-install cork inlays. The honeycombed cork tissue is airy and lightweight.
Although cork floating floors contain some fiberboard, glue-down cork tiles are usually 100% pure cork. When installed with a water-based contact adhesive, the tiles produce no VOCs and no off-gassing. Cork is comfortable to walk on, reduces sound and vibration, reduces heat loss, is anti-allergenic, and is insect- and fire-resistant. Inevitably, cork is making its way into new flooring products, too: Jelinek Cork, for instance, offers anti-slip floors made of recycled cork and rubber granules, as well as luxury vinyl floating floors with a cork underlayment.
Speaking of rubber, it’s become more widely available to residential users thanks to its popularity in institutional settings including nurseries and schools. Comfortable and slip-resistant underfoot, Rubber is PVC-free, low maintenance, and has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It’s available in tiles or sheets, and, like linoleum and vinyl, lends itself to pattern design.
Linoleum, which was invented in the late 19th century, is made from a combination of pressed linseed oil, rosins, and wood flour, the last two coming mostly from waste lumber products. Like cork, any pattern extends throughout the thickness of the tile or sheet goods, giving linoleum a longevity advantage. Colors cover the full range of the spectrum, from solids to linear and modular patterns that recall historical striated and Jaspé patterns dating to the first half of the 20th century.
Such modern linoleums as Forbo’s Marmoleum Modular lines are 100% bio-based, naturally PVC- and plasticizer- and phthalate-free, and eligible for LEED credits. Marmoleum is also factory-coated with a water-based top layer (Topshield 2) that resists dirt pickup, is less prone to wear, and has improved resistance to scratches and stains. Caring for modern linoleum is super easy: just damp mop the floor.
Bio-based flooring has emerged in the past 10 years or so, as global manufacturers reacted to the demand for sustainable materials by replacing PVCs with binders made from natural or rapidly renewable sources, such as corn and bamboo. Armstrong’s BBT (bio-based tile) lines, Striations and Migrations, are composed mostly of limestone (85%) with a bio-based polyester binder. Like composite vinyls, the pattern runs through the material. Migrations best captures the subtle, flecked pattern of historical vinyl tiles from the 1950s and ’60s.
Like cork and linoleum, bio-based flooring scores high on the environmental-friendliness scale. Composed of 40 percent recycled content, BBT contains no phthalates or heavy metals, is low-VOC, hypoallergenic, and fire-, slip-, and stain-resistant. Bio-based products need some sort of sealer, so manufacturers often add proprietary coatings to make them resistant to scratches and stains.
Vinyl, so familiar from mid-20th-century homes, is evolving so quickly, it’s hard to keep track of all the variations. You’ll find entire classes of innovative materials, especially in engineered and waterproof vinyls. Vinyl composition tile (VCT) is the classic through-pattern tile, still largely marketed to commercial customers. Made from a variety of base materials for strength combined with about 15% vinyl binders and pigments, it’s been surpassed by denser materials. Vinyl enhanced tile (VET) has a higher vinyl content and is more resilient, longer wearing, and offers improved abrasion. Solid vinyl tile (SVT) has more vinyl content than even VET, with the highest resistance to dents and stains. Yet another kind of vinyl, luxury vinyl tile, has a thin wear layer—usually a realistic-looking picture of a wood or stone pattern—over either a solid vinyl or vinyl composite backing. (Think of LVT as a better-looking version of laminate flooring.)
Similar to engineered wood floors, rigid core vinyl has a dimensionally stable layer at its heart. Waterproof vinyl flooring’s claim to fame is a core made from a wood/plastic or a stone/plastic composite, backed with a cork or foam underlayment, topped with a wear layer, then skimmed with a finish to resemble wood or stone.
A Patterned Rug
Nothing is more nostalgic than a brightly patterned linoleum rug for the kitchen floor, front entry, or back hall. Unfortunately, real vintage linoleum rugs are scarce and tend to be worn out, even if you can find one.
Enter Vintage Vinyl floorcloths, the creation of Spicher & Co. Like the linoleum and vinyl rugs popular between about 1920 and 1960, these vintage designs (on high-quality vinyl) come in hundreds of colorful, bold, and restrained patterns, from Colonial Williamsburg and Folk Art Museum geometrics and florals to Persian rugs to black-and-white mosaic tile. There’s even a collection of William Morris’s most famous textile designs. Each pattern is rendered in intricate and realistic detail, even if the medium isn’t textural.
Like area rugs the world over, these floor cloths come in a full range of sizes, from 20" x 30" to 10' x 15'. Prices start at $60 for a mat-sized rug. Spicher and Co., (877) 466-1148, spicherandco.com